ATHENS — Tom Crean is well known for his Xs and Os and uptempo teams, and Georgia’s 2020 basketball recruiting class makes it clear there are no plans to slow down.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 16-16 season that saw the team peak the final night with an 18-point win over Ole Miss in the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville.
The next day, March 12, the college sports world shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. Crean and his team were left wondering what might have been.
The Bulldogs have made just one NCAA tournament appearance the last nine years (2015).
Crean, who rebuilt Marquette into a Final Four team and rebuilt Indiana into a two-time Big Ten champion knows UGA remains a work in progress.
Crean inherited a mess two years ago.
A vacuum existed among six returning seniors after star Yante Maten took his leadership and scoring with him to the NBA. Three other players served disciplinary suspensions or have been dismissed from the program.
The sole shining star was Nicolas Claxton, and he improved so much under Crean in one season that he went to the NBA following his sophomore year.
This rebuild is such that just one player remains from that 2018-19 team.
UGA appears to be a refreshed and recharged program moving in the right direction.
Georgia has a solid nucleus to build around with players like freshman assists record holder Sahvir Wheeler, junior guard Tye Fagan and sophomore power forward Toumani Camara returning.
The players are eligible to return to campus as early as June 8 after the SEC presidents voted on Friday to give the green light to players wanting to return to practices for voluntary workouts. The basketball team’s plans are currently being evaluated.
The 2019-20 campaign saw Georgia set a single-season attendance record in Stegman Coliseum that included marquee home wins over Tennessee and Auburn.
On the road, Crean’s Bulldogs scored only the second non-conference road victory over a Top 25 team in program history, beating Memphis.
And now, another reload is underway, with projected NBA lottery pick Anthony Edwards moving on.
Junior power forward Rayshaun Hammonds also elected to leave early, though his professional status is considerably less certain.
Crean is looking forward, his roster now void of any players recruited by former coach Mark Fox.
“What I want is a team that can switch, a team that can play multiple ways,” Crean told DawgNation during the Ingles On The Beat show last Monday night.
“We don’t need to get anyone that will slow us down or clog that lane. We have to get to the basketball, but we have to be able to run.”
No doubt, Georgia has scored 90 or more points 11 times in Crean’s two seasons. Prior to his arrival, the Bulldogs had scored 90 or more points in 11 times in 11 seasons.
“We were second in the country in transition points, we were third in the country at points at the rim, and yet we shot 30 percent from three,” Crean points out.
“You look at some of the games we had, if you had another 3-point make, or two more 3-pointers — and I’m not talking about manufacturing threes, I’m talking about making the open threes that we had — that’s four or five more wins right there.”
Georgia could be that close to the bubble again the season, but they’ll need to rely on newcomers once again.
One season after reloading with 10 newcomers and the No. 5-ranked signing class in the county, the Bulldogs are poised with seven more new players.
Georgia most recently added Andrew Garcia, a 6-foot-5, 228-pound shooting guard who figures to add scoring punch and muscle to a team that will need to grow up in a hurry.
Garcia, from Stony Brook, is the second graduate transfer in the class, joining George Mason transfer Justin Kier (6-4, 197) on what looks to be another very versatile team.
“(Kier) is gonna be a combination guard that can handle it and that can score,” Crean said. “He’ll be comfortable bringing the ball up the floor, or be comfortable having the ball thrown ahead to him.”
Crean said this Georgia team will need to grow up fast, and that’s likely why he’s adding two graduate transfers and two junior college transfers, as well.
Jonathan Ned is a 6-9 inside-out forward from Eastern Florida State junior college that shot 48-percent from beyond the 3-point line last season.
“We need Jonathan to come in and make threes,” Crean said. “We need him to drive the ball, rebound and defend his position, but we also need him to make open jump shots.”
Mikal Starks (6-0 guard) is another Eastern Florida State junior college transfer
“I think he’s a highly competitive leadership guy, he’s a winner, he competes, he fights, he’s quick and he can get to the basket,” Crean said. “I think he’s going to be a good shooter for us, and I think that’s important.”
Georgia also has a commitment from Tyron McMillian, a 6-8, 225-pounder from Kilgore, Texas. McMillan is ranked the No. 11 junior college player in the nation.
K.D. Johnson is a 6-1, top 100 signee out of Hargrave Military Academy High School the Crean believes will have an immediate impact.
“K.D. is a high, high level competitor,” Crean said. “He’s a two-way guy that picks the ball up full court, he’ll hawk you, he’ll fight you.
“He plays with a high motor, he plays to win, and I love his fearlessness.”
Crean said Johnson will take on anybody at the rim, though he expects the talented prospect will quickly adjust to the SEC competition level.
“Sometimes he thinks he’s going to go score on the 6-10, 6-11 guy, and I think he’s going to have to make the growth of how to get to the other side of the rim and make the kick out (pass),” Crean said. “But he passes the ball well, when he’s locked in and stepping into his shot he’s making it consistently.
“I love his track mentality, and I love the fact that he loves the game. Anthony Edwards is like that. You want guys that want to be in the gym making themselves better.”
Josh Taylor is another incoming freshman, a 6-8, 195-pounder out of Norcross.
“Josh works around the bucket and he’s a very good rebounder,” Crean said. “He wants to get better as a shooter and driver … but he rebounds the ball, he runs both ends and he wants to compete.”
Crean plans to keep with his uptempo style, and he’s hoping to develop more toughness and see leaders step up in tight games.
That was something that was missing at times the past two seasons.
“Some of those games last season, we couldn’t stop the runs because we couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Crean said. “We couldn’t go in and get a bucket inside, or we couldn’t just say we’re going to get an And One.
“’We had some maturity leadership issues with that when it was time to get it settled down.”
Crean said it’s something he needs to recruit to, and he feels good about what Georgia has in the works with a class currently ranked No. 29.
“You can’t put a value on people that can settle your team down and bring them confidence on the floor,” Crean said. “And it isn’t always the point guard, and it isn’t always the oldest guy.
“Anybody can change momentum inside a game, but very few can bring a lot of confidence every day to a team. Your job as s coach is to develop it and recruit it, and it’s imperative you find those people.”
Tom Crean May 18, 2020
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